The Other Side of Eden: An American Tragedy premieres Saturday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at the Highland School Center for the Arts in Warrenton.
On July 17, 1932, a black farmhand named Shedrick Thompson is believed to have entered the Markham, Virginia, home of his prominent white landlord and employer Henry Baxley, beat him unconscious, then raped, batter, and left Baxley’s wife, Mamie, for dead. A two-month manhunt ensued, ending only when Thompson’s decomposing body was found hanging from an apple tree on what is now the Marriott Ranch property in Hume. Word spread quickly when the body was found, and a crowd of about 150 gathered. Only one official—a deputy sheriff— had arrived and was able to view the body only briefly before the crowd set fire to it. Thompson’s death was immediately ruled a suicide by the coroner.
However, Thompson’s death had all the hallmarks of a lynching. Official evidence was scarce once the body had been burned, and no one was ever charged with the murder or the destruction of the body. But, “current residents … cite the local lore, the stories they’ve been told, combined with a logic born of time and place,” writes author Jim Hall in his book The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia: Seeking Truth at Rattlesnake Mountain.
More of the story has come to light only recently through Tom Davenport, a renowned local filmmaker, and Hall’s investigative research. They have uncovered the carefully concealed information in the memories of local residents and their descendants. Only now, 85 years after the crimes, are locals starting to reluctantly talk about these events, as though worried an old wound shrouded in silence may reopen.
Davenport’s film, The Other Side of Eden: An American Tragedy, may be viewed as a companion to Hall’s book, further analyzing the underlying racial currents in Fauquier during the early 1930s in an attempt to identify Thompson’s murderous motives and to explore the mob mentality of vengeful white vigilantes.
Hall, and other locals mentioned in the film, will attend the premiere. The screening is free and open to the public. Stream the first seven minutes on Vimeo now!